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Post Office: Counters Operations and Services

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 22 Series
Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive
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Full title: Post Office: Counters Operations and Services
Date(s): [1910]-2001
Level of description: Series
Extent: 45 files and 107 volumes
Name of creator(s): Post Office


Administrative/Biographical history:

Post Office Limited (named Post Office Counters Ltd 1987-2001) was established as a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Mail Group plc on 1st September 1987. It inherited functions and services from Royal Mail relating to the management of post office branches in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales and the provision of financial, information and other relevant services through this network.

Thomas Witherings opened the first post office, where members of the public could take mail for posting and collect mail sent to them, in October 1635 in Bishopsgate Street, London. He was acting under a proclamation from King Charles I 'for the settling of the letter office of England and Scotland', authorising him to open the royal domestic mail service to the public to generate revenue for the King. Witherings lost control of the service in 1637, leading to a spirited struggle by several claimants for the right to manage the monopoly (see Robinson, Britain's Post Office, Ch.3). This ended in 1653 when the Government farmed out services to the highest bidder, and the Post Office Acts 1657 and 1660 fixed rates for sending letters and established the legal foundation of the service for the first time. The duties and remuneration of postmasters were confirmed in the Post Office Act 1660, which designated responsibility for postmasters staged throughout England and Scotland to accept and hand-over letters, and provide fresh horses for post-boys on payment of a set fee.

The network of post office branches expanded considerably during the 18th century. Post offices were known as Letter Receiving Houses and were usually housed at inns and run by the innkeeper acting as the postmaster. Postmasters were self-employed and received payments according to the quantity of mail handled. The system was centrally administered through an Inland Office based in Lombard Street, London.

In 1715 six 'Surveyors' were appointed by the Postmaster General to manage postal operations outside of London, and in 1720 Ralph Allen established a business under contract to the Postmaster General to manage and develop the postal network for letters not passing through the London office. Allen managed this until his death in 1764, at which point his business became part of the Inland Office department and was transferred from Bath to London.

In 1854, as services expanded and the need for greater facilities at post office branches increased, the first post offices owned and run by Royal Mail (then named the General Post Office) were opened. These were called crown offices, as opposed to sub-offices run by agents (sub-postmasters). Crown offices were managed by paid employees of the General Post Office and administered with sub-offices through the Inland Office Department (renamed the Circulation Department from 1854-1934). A system of salaried and scale-payment sub-offices, head post offices and regional branch offices was established to provide a range of facilities managed through a network of head postmasters, postmasters and sub-postmasters.

In 1934 the system of district Surveyors and central administration of post office branches through the Circulation Department was replaced by eight regional divisions with devolved powers and a central headquarters function. Crown and sub-post offices were now managed through a series of general postal regions, though paid postmaster and head postmaster in each region still managed all functions (collecting, processing and delivery of mail as well as counter operations).

A 'Counters Services' department was first established in Postal Headquarters in 1981. In 1986 postal operations were organised into three separate businesses - Royal Mail Letters, Royal Mail Parcels and Post Office Counters (in addition to National Girobank which remained a separate business unit until it was sold to the Alliance and Leicester Building Society in 1990). In the Post Office Counters division, 32 district offices reported to four headquarters units: the "territories". Counters managers, each responsible for five to ten main post office branches and a number of sub-offices, supported each district manager. Sub-post offices and sub-postmasters, who were contractors to Royal Mail, were unaffected by this reorganisation.

In 1987 Post Office Counters became a limited company - Post Office Counters Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Mail but with separate audited accounts. This was reorganised in 1993 with seven regions replacing 30 districts and three territories, and three business centres focusing on particular markets: financial, branded and agency development. In 1998 the strategic, policy and administrative functions of Royal Mail were reorganised further with the establishment of 17 different business units operating across all three businesses (counters, mail and parcels). Counter operations and services were focused in four main functions: Post Office Network, Network Banking, Cash Handling and Distribution and Customer Management (Government Unit).

Post Office Ltd was established on 1st October 2001, under new powers granted to Royal Mail by the Post Office Act 2001. Post Office Ltd absorbed Post Office Network, Network Banking, Cash Handling and Distribution, Customer Management (Government Unit) business units in Royal Mail and all of their functions, in addition to the brands, network and functions of Post Office Counters Ltd. Post Office Ltd remains an integral part of Royal Mail Group plc, but stands alone financially and is profit-accountable in its own right. It now contains seven administrative divisions, including Service Delivery, Customer Services and Strategic Alliances responsible respectively for Post Office branches, sales and marketing and key commercial services.


Scope and content/abstract:

This series relates to the operation of counters business and services. The majority of the records relate to the policy on the establishment, closure and up-grading of sub-offices and the review of the scale payment sub-office system.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Chronologically in series

Conditions governing access:

Public Record

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Some files have been transferred to POST 23 and POST 28.

Publication note:

Bibliography: Robinson, H, Britain's Post Office, Oxford University Press (1953) Royal Mail Group, Post Office Limited Charter, (27 September 2001) Royal Mail Group, Report and Accounts (1969-2003) Royal Mail Group, The Post Office Guide, (1857- Watson, The Gentleman and Citizen's Almanac forů(1733-1844) (successively compiled by J Watson, S Watson, J W Stewart and others)

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
EAD tansfer validated May 2011

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